Headlines from First Thoughts

Thursday, May 31, 2007

How to End Violence

This summer, be a part of these great initiatives to end violence.

These are hosted by Knoxville Interfaith Network.

KIN's Neighborhoods Action Team
June 28, July 26, and Aug 23.
7:00-8:30 Immaculate Conception Catholic Church

Youth & Education Action Team
Church of the Savior
7 to 8:30 on the third Tuesday of the month.
June 19, July 17, Aug 21.

Strengthening Families Action Team
Immaculate Conception Church
7 to 8:30
June 7, July 5, Aug 2.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Open Letter to People of Faith

An Open Letter to the Community from People of Faith:
"Choosing Unity and Compassion; Rejecting Violence, Division and Hatred"
May 29, 2007 - Knoxville, Tennessee

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men (and women) can build up.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear people of faith and goodwill throughout our community:

As people of faith and goodwill, we are appalled that any group would attempt to use the tragedy of a murder, any murder, as the pretext for furthering its cause, especially when that cause is so obviously wrong.

We are also confident that the strong fabric of faith and goodwill in our community will serve as a barrier to the divisive and misguided rhetoric of those who seek to tear down rather than build-up understanding between people.

Our hearts go out to victims of violence and their families. We commit ourselves and invite others to join with us in working constructively to address all forms of violence in our city and society. We reject the notion that such violence can ever be attributed to any single race, class or group of people. Any act of violence, any practice of injustice and any expression of prejudice or racism in our community should concern everyone in our community. The answer is not the propagation of misinformation, division or hatred, but the cultivation of responsibility, unity and mutual compassion.

We call upon our fellow citizens to pray for all victims of violence and their families; to seek real solutions to the causes of violence; and to reach across the boundaries of race, faith, neighborhood, class and other differences among us to join hands in an effort to build up community, goodwill and trust in our city.

With deep faith in the transforming power of God's goodness and love,

Johnnie Skinner, Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Clergy Caucus of the Knoxville Interfaith Network (KIN)
Thea Peterson, St. John’s Lutheran Church & Knoxville Inner City Churches United for People (KICCUP)
Grant Standefer, Compassion Coalition
Julie Blakeley, First Baptist Church of Knoxville
Chris Buice, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church
Joe Ciccone, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
John Bluth Gill, Church of the Savior, United Church of Christ
Jim Sessions, United Methodist Church, Children’s Defense Fund
William D. Shiell, First Baptist Church of Knoxville

Faith Communities Engage Initiatives to End Violence

Faith Communities Engage Initiatives to End Violence

Knoxville, Tenn.--Seeking to end hatred and violence in all its forms, over 100 faith communities—representing more than 50,000 members—and the Knoxville area organizations that bind them together, are working to act in cooperation to end violence.

Those participating in this effort include: Johnnie Skinner, Mt. Zion Baptist Church and the Clergy Caucus of the Knoxville Interfaith Network (KIN); Grant Standefer, Compassion Coalition; Thea Peterson; St. John’s Lutheran Church and Knoxville Inner City Churches United for People (KICCUP); Julie Blakeley, First Baptist Church of Knoxville; Chris Buice, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church; Joe Ciccone, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church; John Bluth Gill, Church of the Savior, United Church of Christ; Jim Sessions, United Methodist Church and the Children’s Defense Fund; William D. Shiell, First Baptist Church of Knoxville; and the Bahai Community.
"We welcome anyone to join with us in working constructively to address violence in the city, but we reject the notion that such violence can be attributed to any single race, class or group of people. Any act of violence, any practice of injustice and any suggestion of prejudice or racism toward anyone in our community should concern everyone in our city. We call upon all citizens to reach across the boundaries of race, faith, neighborhood, class and other differences among us to join hands in an effort to build community, goodwill and trust in our community rather than tear it down."

To that end, several faith communities and organizations are engaged in initiatives to address the root causes of violence including, but not limited to, the following:

· Mentoring at-risk Children
o Knoxville Interfaith Network (KIN) addresses bullying in public schools. Youth and Education Action Teams will be hosting forums with youth this summer to address violence.
Specific events

Get involved this Summer to End Violence.....

KIN's Neighborhoods Action Team
The next three months our dates are June 28, July 26, and Aug 23.
7:00-8:30 Immaculate Conception Catholic Church

Youth & Education Action Team
Church of the Savior
7 to 8:30 on the third Tuesday of the month.
June 19, July 17, Aug 21.

KIN's Strengthening Families Action Team
Immaculate Conception Church
7 to 8:30
June 7, July 5, Aug 2.

o KICCUP Churches provide mentoring through KidsHope USA. First Baptist is providing mentoring to 20% of the students at South Knoxville Elementary. St. John’s Lutheran begins a similar initiative this fall. Many others provide volunteers and mentors.

o "There is an immediate need in the Fall 2007 for volunteers and mentors in urban schools.” said Thea Peterson. “We’re challenging more faith communities to step forward to volunteer with at-risk kids through any number of wonderful mentoring groups in Knox County,” said Grant Standefer of the Compassion Coalition. Examples include Amachi, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and KidsHope USA.

Conducting a Clergy Conference on Domestic ViolenceKnoxville’s Family Justice Center will host a conference on domestic violence for all clergy on November 13, 2007. We’re challenging the Faith Community to participate in issues to

prevent domestic violence and child abuse. This event will provide education, training, and resources for faith communities regarding domestic violence and abuse.

· Call to Prayer
o As a result of the “Save our City” rally April 27, we are calling for prayer for the victims of violence
o Prayer gatherings are scheduled in African-American, KICCUP, and KIN faith communities.

· Commitment and invitation to dialogue with government representatives and neighborhoods about the root causes of violence.

For more information about these and other initiatives to end the violence in Knoxville, please contact William D. Shiell at (865) 363-7087 or at shiell@fbcknox.org. Information and links will be posted online at www.fbcknox.org/endviolence.htm.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Truett Seminary

This year is the 10th anniversary of Truett Seminary's first graduating class (my class). Here is a nice article from my friend Marv Knox editor of the Baptist Standard.

By Marv Knox
WACO—Ten years past graduation, Truett Theological Seminary’s first students remain fascinated with—and challenged by—people who receive their ministry.
They’re also still committed to learning how to minister, and they believe new seminary graduates should embrace their calling, they said in reply to a survey reflecting on their decade out of seminary.
Baylor University’s seminary graduated its first class of 33 students in 1997. Almost a third of them replied to the questionnaire. Their answers crossed a spectrum of impressions and ideas, but relationships with people provided a recurrent theme.
“What has surprised me most (in the past 10 years) is that the local church is the place where a pastor might see people at their worst, with all their warts and foibles, and yet it is the very same place where he or she would see people at their absolute best,” noted Brian Brewer, senior pastor at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., who will join the Truett Seminary faculty this summer.
“It is this polarity that has shown me the church (is) both human and divine,” Brewer noted.
“People are a challenge to work with at times,” added James Gardner, associate pastor at McClendon Baptist Church in West Monroe, La. “The best thing about ministry is working with people. The worst thing—if you can really say that—or maybe the most challenging thing about ministry is working with people.”
Acknowledging he wished he had learned “more about working with people” in seminary, Gardner also noted “relationships” was the most valuable lesson he learned in seminary.
“It doesn’t matter how great you preach or how well-educated you are. If people inside and outside the church don’t know you care about and love them, nothing else matters,” he said.
Brewer and Gardner joined Kirk Hatcher, minister to youth at South Main Baptist Church in Houston, in wishing they had learned more about conflict management or relationships in seminary.
Learning more about “dealing with different personalities and how that applies to working in a ministry setting” would have been very helpful, Hatcher said, noting young ministers need to know “how to deal with the overpowering person, the meek, the attention-getter, the refuser … .”
Bill Shiell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., credited Truett Seminary with helping him learn conflict resolution. And the pastor-church relationship provided the focal point for his advice to the latest crop of seminary graduates, following his footsteps by a decade.
“Know yourself, and know how you’re wired,” he urged, responding to a question about advice he would give to new seminary graduates. “Churches are like people because they are people.
“Every church has a DNA, just as every minister does, too. In your first church and/or staff experience, pay attention to how you live out your theology, how you lead and how you work. Then, as you talk to search committees, ask questions based on what you know about yourself and what you know about their DNA. Accept who they are, and minister from that position. …
“For instance, every church has a different definition of pastor and staff leadership. We were trained in seminary to lead one way but not trained how to adjust leadership needs based on the DNA of the congregation and/or staff. Churches could identify what they want and clarify that. You could substitute any issue here, but leadership is one example.”
Gardner offered new graduates a word of warning about relationships: “Sometimes, people will be ugly and nasty and downright mean. But regardless of that, treat them as Christ would—love. It’s easy to get so busy doing the ‘stuff’ of ministry that you can forget what we are sent here for—to reach and tell people of the love of Jesus Christ.”
Steve Wells echoed that theme as he delivered the message to graduates at Truett Seminary’s 2007 commencement.
“Relationships matter. … If you love people enough, eventually, they will hurt you or you will hurt them,” insisted Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston and a member of the Class of ‘97.
“If we have been forgiven, we must forgive others,” he said, noting forgiveness may seem like a quiet act and mundane, but it is a “profound miracle.”
How ministers dispense and accept forgiveness may be the most profound act of their entire ministry, he added, exhorting the new graduates: “Now is the time to take up the role of being heralds of the king, ambassadors of Christ and ministers of reconciliation.”
The ‘97 Truett grads emphasized the importance of deepening their faith and continually learning how to minister better.
“Truett placed a priority on spiritual formation,” recalled Andy Pittman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lufkin. “I did not fully appreciate the importance of spiritual formation while I was a student.
“Once I was out of seminary, I started serving as a pastor and giving myself away to others. That was when spiritual formation became most important to me. I recognized that I had to have a growing spiritual life in order to be effective as a minister. Truett gave me the foundation and the tools to grow spiritually—and to help others to grow.”
Brewer echoed that sentiment in his response to a question about what he wishes laypeople know. “A pastor’s desk is in a ‘study,’ not an ‘office.’ He or she needs time to do just that, to study. Often, what is the most valuable part of the pastor’s work week is the time he spends in prayer and study.”
Coming to grips with that fact is what has surprised Wells the most during the past 10 years. “I am an extrovert by nature, yet I need 20 to 30 study hours every week for preparation.”
That need never stops, Hatcher said, telling recent grads they will learn from unlikely sources. “You don’t know everything. People you are going to be ministering to and with can help you know more. Let them teach you,” he said, advising, “Never stop learning.”
That’s a lesson the “old” Truett grads learned in Waco, recalled C.V. Hartline III, pastor of Vibrant Covenant Church in Portland, Ore.
The two most valuable lessons he learned in seminary were their late professor Bill Treadwell’s admonition to “remember who you are” and to “be a life-long learner.”
That stuck, Hartline said, crediting Truett Seminary with providing and education that was “a building block for growth” in faith and practical ministry.
Chris Nagel, a chaplain at Giddings State School in Giddings, even offered recent grads a specific area of learning that will strengthen their relationships. “Do a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education,” he advised. “It will help you integrate your personal issues and your seminary education in a real-world setting.”
Chad Prevost, assistant professor of creative writing at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., urged the new grads to innovate and seek relevance.
“We have enough status quo in the ministry—and to some extent, at least, this plays into why the church continues to fade in significance to the culture. Be innovative,” Prevost explained. “I have to agree with the prophetic voice of Tony Campolo: If the church doesn’t find ways to become socially engaged, it will continue to lose relevance.”
Chris Spinks, assistant to the dean and an adjunct professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., urged the ‘07 graduates to stretch themselves and continue to think deeply.
“Even the ‘heady’ stuff matters,” noted Spinks, who will become an acquisitions editor at Wipf & Stock Publishing in Eugene, Ore., this summer. “It makes you a deeper, more thoughtful person, which in turn makes you a better minister.”
And Wells advised them to lean on their call to ministry as they go about serving God’s people.
“Be mystical about church call,” he said. “Go where you feel led. Work like you will be there the rest of your life. Stay until you have a clear sense of call to another place. If you wish you were in another place; know that God knows where you are and when and where you will go next.”

For complete answers to the 1997 Truett Seminary graduates’ answers to the survey, visit our website, www.baptiststandard.com.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pirate Party

Parker turned 6 last week, and the Pirates of the Rocky Hill Caribbean invaded. Kelly and I thought we learned from previous years’ escapades. A regular reader of this space knows that we have struggled the past couple of years maintaining order, discipline, and the American way with these little boys. So this year, we scaled back. We knew better than to reserve your local Chuck E. Cheese. We’re here to make memories—not rent them. But instead of inviting all the school like we did last year, we just invited 12 boys from his class and neighborhood.

We also prepared much earlier than years’ past. With the “Pirate” theme, we had plenty of supplies to order and construct. A boat, cannons, pirate plates, a cave, treasure chest, palm trees, maps, costumes, hats, and yes Pirate cake. For some reason, the County Courthouse does not rent their cannons any longer, so we had to do without mortar shells. Other than that, we were set. We had the best boat to ever sail Dunbarton Oaks neighborhood. We had everything planned for a wonderful two-hour party from 6:00-8:00 p.m. We planned games, prizes, treasure hunts, Pirate piñata (don’t ask), Pirate flags, and Pirate music. We carefully scripted the order of events for 6 year old boys. When each of the swashbucklers arrived, they were to make a flag, say “AAAARRRRGH” and wait the others. Then we would play a rousing game of musical “X-marks-the-spot,” eat hot dogs, have a treasure hunt, eat cake, open presents, and end with a water balloon fight sending them home soaked and satisfied. That, of course, would be our “thank you” to the parents for sending their child.

Instead, chaos ensued. I knew we were in trouble when the first pirate arrived early. Soon 1200 others followed. Instead of making the required flag, they immediately broke into a sword fight. And then the ultimate nightmare—a storm at sea. The weather had been beautiful all day. At 6:19 p.m., the winds shifted and the hull of the boat collapsed. With thunder all around, we quickly assembled the troops under the tree (I’m not kidding) to beat the helpless piñata, grab as much candy as possible, and duck for cover. Parker quickly abandoned ship when he heard the thunder. As a 6 year old, he knows ALL ABOUT THUNDER. He ran to the house thinking that it was the end of the world. Somehow we convinced him that this was not the Apocalypse. He returned to his birthday party and played a wonderful game of “it’s not really thunder; it’s the cannons!”

Kelly and I made the command decision to abandon the order of operations in case it began to rain. We shifted gears and had the water balloon fight before the wind lifted the palm trees into Loudon County. We gathered then for a quick Pirate story while the hotdogs were being assembled. We were thankful to have the grandparents on food duty, and they helped us manage. With the thunder subsiding and the rain holding off, we began looking for the buried treasure. It took these scrappy boys approximately 2.3 minutes to find the treasure and 30 seconds to tear it apart. It was now 6:50 p.m., and we had finished all the games. After pirate cupcakes, Parker opened presents, and we still had 50 minutes to go with nothing else planned. We improvised, played a game of Pirate limbo in the garage and let them run through the yard having another sword fight. By 7:40, Kelly had enough of the free-for-all, gathered the group for a session of “Duck-duck-pirate,” and closed with “Pirates of the Caribbean”—the movie.

When the little “Captain Jack Sparrow’s” left, the yard was destroyed, the palm trees were in pieces, and the hot dogs cold. The best news-- we survived to enjoy our memories. As the rain fell at 8:20, I was grateful for a creative wife, an excited son, and another year to sympathize with the staff of Chuck E. Cheese. But next year, instead of the “Pirates” theme, I think “Gilligan’s Island” will be more appropriate.

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